The Doctrine of the Church in Acts
Dr. Andy Chambers
“I don’t have to be jacked-up on caffeine to get excited about the 5th book of the New Testament.”
Compared to the Big Bang in cosmology, there is no mystery about what happened when the Holy Spirit fell and the church had its own “Big Bang”.”
Acts is the history of the church emerging in two distinct and often-clashing cultures (Jew/Gentile). For the first 15 years, the church in Acts flourished among Jews who followed Jesus as their Messiah. They couldn’t have imagined that a non-Jew could follow Jesus without circumcision. 2nd half of Acts we see the church spreading into the non-Jewish sectors with tension and struggles going on between both of these groups. Acts is a profound case study all Christians must address of the tension between following Jesus and the culture around us. How do we do that faithfully? How do we plant faithful churches and incarnate the Gospel?
-Luke was probably a Gentile, companion of Paul, having opportunity to see the greatest missionary ever in action! We often read Paul’s letters to discover about the church, but we forgot that Acts is a description of Paul’s actual practices in the churches!
-Acts isn’t just about going and telling. It is about going and gathering. Luke doesn’t stop with preaching, repentance, faith and baptism, but stays there and talks about the churches.
Several KEY passages for Luke about the church
Acts 2:42-47—use of the imperfect (w/ present participles) to describe the continual activity of church life
5:12-16-intended by Luke to show the church active when the Holy Spirit is powerful in people’s lives
Marks of Exemplary Church Life in Acts
1. Be broken and filled. Don’t forget Jesus began building this community when he originally called his disciples 3 years before. A long, grueling and difficult process of breaking these men had to be accomplished. It required 3 years of walking day and night with Jesus, messy process, hardships, Jesus had to expose their intolerance of people not like them, their pride, arrogance. (He didn’t buy a macbook and a projector and get some mailers.) Not a church growth plan that would sell well. The entire training period in Luke is assumed in Acts-don’t forget that.
2. Be converted and baptized. (2:38-41)
3. Be submitted and taught. (2:42a)
4. Be connected to each other and connecting to the cross. (2:42b-c. Cp. 20:7) breaking of bread- Lord’s Supper
5. Be dependant and bold. (2:42d; 4:23-31)- the prayer for boldness in the face of threats.
6. Be under authority and know God’s power. (2:43, 5:15-16)
7. Learn to give and learn to receive. (2:44-45; 4:34; See 11:27-30)
8. Meet together often to worship and to eat. (2:46). They were the church every day. They ate together! Basic community activity.
9. Praise God and know the favor of the city. (2:47a; 5:13)
10. Know God’s sovereignty and do one’s duty. (2:47b; 13:48; 16:14 on God’s sovereignty and 2:38; 3:19; 5:14; 16:31; 17:30 on our duty.) Luke doesn’t even bother to try and resolve these!
11. Experience unity and celebrate diversity. (4:32; 6:1-7; 15:19-21.) The cultural problems of Greek and Hebrew widows and the delegation of ministry to those outside the mold. Same in Acts 15, where the Gentile church had to give a little regarding meat with blood and idols so that they wouldn’t give unnecessary offense to the Jews.
12. Witness with power and live by grace. (4:33)- What does it look like in your church for much grace to rest on your people? The voyage of the dawn treader where capacity to see the sun is growing day by day as they head right for it.
13. Accept that the cost will keep some from joining. (5:13) Luke makes this comment that “no one else dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.” This is a hard verse for our numbers-driven, success models of churches. If your walk is real enough to be hated and attacked, some will not join with you.
14. See the connection between holiness and growth. (5:1-10, 11-14) God killed people. Put that in a mailer. But it did cause them to keep growing.
Q/A with Dr. Carr (from the previous session) and Dr. Chambers
Carr- asked a question regarding his mention of extrabiblical traditions and specific examples:
Church Buildings, organizations (Dr. Chambers added the simple corporate gathering and smaller groups found in Acts—Simple and effective) Dr. Carr adding that Acts already had 3000 at that point, so the big gathering and the small gathering are the same.
Both- asked how when we talk as if there’s a generation that gets it and one that doesn’t, how do younger people stand on the shoulders of those before us? For older, how do we mentor?
Carr– I’ve greatly benefited from my heritage, many people investing in me, Cooperative Program helping seminary students. It would be not only hypocritical, but wrong to speak ill of that which we have benefited from. But young people have a responsibility beyond that to reach the next generation. Last year, every zip code lost a percentage of Christians in the population. So we can’t do what we’ve always done because we are following behind.
Chambers– Encourage younger people to be HUMBLE in gratitude for those before them. The ones who can do that are more able to think God’s thoughts about the church versus the ones who are just rebels sometimes.
Either- How can pastors be better fertilizers in the field and lead a church and fulfill responsibilities expected by the church and all the other pastors? How do we be pastors and still reach lost people?
Carr– I used to say be a church planter, but that just starts the cycle over. Church culture often hasn’t allowed the pastors to spend time with lost people. About 15% of seminary students want to be pastors, half make it, but most who are not going there say it is based on the unrealistic expectations of churches. This is an institutional issue that needs to be addressed and re-training churches what to expect. Some might not ever make that change though.
Chambers– Something as modest as investing a small amount of time into a secular group and deliberately interacting with them (Take a church leader with you in fact!)
What role, if any, can conventions and associations play in realizing these 21st century church changes?
Carr- Across America, the association-level structure is being questioned by younger pastors. The title of the director is DOM (Director of Missions)-but he’s expected to be the director of maintenance usually. What church planting and things are going on? Not a lot often. Young people don’t want to waste energy on associations that are not focused on the Great Commission, ones that resist only being focused inward on the churches.
Chambers-Historical geographic conventions will struggle in this more affinity-based world. Jesus tasked the church with the Great Commission, whatever the way of cooperating ends up being. Be free to follow Christ there.
Carr- Two choices in the future- maintain structures of the past, or perhaps note the once-relevance of structures with a willingness to move forward if it is needed.
Question about Collaboration-
Chambers– 1st century churches were very aware of each other and conscious of their responsibilities to and for each other.
Carr– in the OT, Israel was carried off by Babylon. Jeremiah wrote them a letter to seek the welfare of that city. Why can’t the church join together in doing things that God cares about? Why do lost people often do things together?
–Very good thoughts looking at the early church life in Acts. I think the issue of description vs. prescription (viewing Acts as the historical record of the early church or as the implicit criteria of what churches today should look like) makes the study of Acts particularly difficult and perhaps presents many of us an unnecessary dichotomy when we study Acts today. Obviously Dr. Chambers had quite a large topic to discuss (discussing “The Church in Acts” would be like trying to discuss “Christology in John’s Gospel” or something!), but I thought he did a good job of hitting key parts and inviting us to further study on our own.